THE constitution of Zimbabwe provides for right of conscience and freedom of choice. However, the theology of Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (JMAC) on marriage does not permit women and children to have absolute rights on choosing who to marry.
The constitution in chapter 4 section 44 contains justiciable rights.
Section 51 talks of the right to dignity and of note is that such rights are not absolute in application. Section 86 provides for the general limitation provision. In addition to that, Parliament and the legal body has the prerogative to limit the constitutional rights.
The limitation of a right can only be valid if it is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom taking into account all relevant factors.
Section 60 of the constitution provides for the freedoms to be enjoyed by the churches without internal modifiers to limit the right concerned if it is violating the human rights of its members. This is important, given that some of the theology of JMAC can be said to violate the rights of women and children.
Psychosocial support for children
On psychosocial support, JMAC church holds that, its socialisation provides adequate social nets through the provision of life skills like welding, basket making, and farming, amongst others. However, the government has not been extending funding to support the church’s initiatives of providing sustainable life skills to its members.
Entrepreneurship is at the core of JMAC’s teachings. Zimbabwe is largely an informal economy and the government provides financial aid to small and medium enterprises for them to grow.
According to former Reserve Bankbif Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono (2008:8), Zimbabwe is now a Casino Economy, where the informal sector and hustlers are now driving the economy. With 85% unemployment rate in Zimbabwe, the informal sector has grown tremendously.
However, of note is the failure by the government to consider closed societies like JMAC where the rights of children are not recognised. The issue of collateral is perhaps a major stumbling block since in JMAC children are not regarded as full human beings with their distinct set of rights.
The importance of psychosocial support is also critical when one considers the statistical evidence by the ministry of Health and Child Care. In 2019, then minister of Health and Child Care Obadiah Moyo revealed that at least one million people in a total population of 14.5 million people are said to be mentally unstable. The reason for mental instability was given as lack of social support, amongst others. On the other hand, 85% of the population are church affiliated.
There is need for the government and the church to create synergies to ensure that there are robust psychosocial support initiatives. The psychosocial support gap in Zimbabwe is manifesting itself in drug abuse, organised crimes, lawlessness, cold blood murder cases, rape, domestic violence, divorces, burglary, moral decay and mental instability amongst others.
To show the role and importance of psychosocial support, various traditions, institutions and religions have varied psychosocial support initiatives. In African Traditional Church (ATR) the aunties, uncles, and grandparents played a pivotal role in the provision of the psychosocial support on children as they underwent the rites of passage. The study cited ATR because JMAC’s theology is somewhat syncretic, it borrows from both the tradition and the sacred text.
While the church borrowed from ATR, the role of aunts, uncles and grandparents who are members of JMAC in providing the psychosocial support is not clearly defined. These psychosocial support initiatives are very critical in a bridge model where life skills given to children help them to respond to various challenges affecting them.
The psychosocial support is important in the socialisation of children. The bridge model demands that the victims be provided with life skills which enable them to come out of their situation, thus, the approach is transformative. The bridge model is important in psychosocial support services which are critical because children experience multi-dimensional challenges, vulnerabilities and human rights violations.
Skinner and David (2006:4) identify multiple vulnerabilities to which children could be exposed, including HIV and Aids, illnesses, disability, limited access to services, physical and emotional abuse, and neglect and substance abuse within communities.
Action for the rights of children points out that the experience of difficult or disturbing events could significantly influence the social and emotional wellbeing of a child (ARC: 2009:1). The other aspect that triggers the need for psychosocial support services in JMAC is the scientific evidence of the negative effects of coping strategies by minors.
In Africa, the majority of marriages are characterised by high rates of violence, sexual abuse, gender-based violence, loss of children and failure to manage bereavement by minors in marriage, and forced or arranged marriages.
The other problem is that of child widows and orphans. In child marriages, minors are married to persons post life expectancy, for example 65-year-olds, who after marriage live for a very short period before they die.
These minors end up being exposed to the vagaries of teenage widowhood and fending for children without any support. The other hidden variable is that widows in Africa are often abused by society, including naming, backbiting and shaming.
These challenges come by virtue of being a widow. Children by these teen mothers often suffer from malnutrition due to deterioration in living conditions and lack of access to services that could all have immediate, as well as long-term consequences for children’s balance, development and fulfilment.
These conditions for both the widowed, minors and her siblings, trigger post-traumatic disorders hereinafter requiring active family support, counselling, sustainable livelihoods approach, viable social service by the government. In addition, increased awareness programmes by the government, traditional chiefs and non-state actors are highly critical in the provision of love and care using a bridge model and life skills approach.
These elements have been found to enhance resilience among the children (Theron, et.al: 2013:13). With early intervention, therefore, these children may be helped to become productive members of the society.
Whilst in JMAC the church doctrine does not promote formal education in favour of informal education which is hinged on indigenous life skills like welding, basket making, farming and informal sector, Smart (2003) argues that schools and teachers play a critical role in the development of Orphans and Vulnerable Children, hereinafter (OVC).
This is critical, especially in the wake of loss of parents and increased child headed parenting. The effectiveness of the life skills of child-headed parents is yet to be scientifically proven, hence the need to consider proved interventions by trained counsellors. The school system offers an opportunity to provide psycho-social support systems (PSS), which is an important need for OVC, which is usually lacking in orphans.
Ritcher, Mangegold and Pather (2004) observe that school curricula provide life skills, household management training and care for children. Arguably, teachers are trained to address the psychological problems of children that lead to poor performance and children dropping out of school (Ritcher, et.al, 2004).
Of note, children in JMAC are not benefiting from school-designed psychosocial support system because JMAC doctrine discourages children from attending schools. Often, parents withdraw their children from school because they strongly believe that schools teach their children Human Rights, resulting in them question their faith.
Manicaland province, the hub of JMAC, is prone to multiple vulnerabilities like natural disasters, pandemics, HIV and Aids, child marriages, child labour, amongst others. The vulnerabilities induced by natural disasters and pandemics affect children in a multidimensional way: like the right to life, access to decent housing, health, education and promotion of child marriages through arranged marriages to wealthy families.
According to Sillah (2014), Zimbabwe has been affected by various hazards and disasters in the past, particularly droughts, floods, the HIV and Aids pandemics, cholera outbreaks and transport accidents. Essentially, hazards do not affect all groups in a society in a homogenous manner. Sillar (2014) argues that children are a particular group in a society that needs psychosocial support and unwarranted attention within the continuum of disaster management.
Whilst the government-formulated Children’s Act of 2001 (Children’s Act: Chapter 5: 06) to ensure that, the concerns of children are given the first priority, JMAC children are not benefiting because the church teaches its congregants to ignore the government.
Only the church’s leadership is allowed to engage the government. Whilst HIV and Aids is a pandemic in Zimbabwe, JMAC teaches that HIV and Aids is a demon and JMAC members are not affected because they are covered by the church’s anointing.
Though HIV and Aids has from the past wreaked havoc in Zimbabwe, JMAC teaches that only the Church can heal in accordance to James 5:14 which states that, “if anyone amongst the congregants is sick, the church elders must be called for them to pray over him and anointing him with oil in the name of the lord”. If death occurs, the church use Ecclesiastes (3:1ff ESV) to justify it. The verse states that any person born of a woman shall die and life alternates between life and death.
Whilst the church continues to preach against hospitals and clinics, it is estimated that one in every five Zimbabweans lives with HIV and/or Aids (Usaid: 2011). In 1998, Zimbabwe was reported as the third highest in terms of HIV prevalence in the world at 33%.
Children have not been spared the HIV and Aids epidemic. Children have been adversely affected as seen in the phenomenon of child-headed households, thereby compromising the cross section of provisions rights (Sillar: 2015). According to Bongo et.al (2013), approximately 600 000 children have been orphaned owing to the effects of Aids.
The HIV and Aids pandemic can therefore be considered to have created an environment of risk amongst children. Given the above, it can be argued that children and adolescents do not only need material support, health-care and education but also emotionally responsive relationships for optimal growth and well-being. Arguably, psychosocial support includes rebuilding and strengthening relationships which are vital to human development.
It has been argued that the most powerful and important form of psychosocial support is the everyday care and support provided by families, households, friends, teachers, and community members and significant others (Department of Social development: 2010).
In the context of this argument, it is prudent that duty bearers like state and non-state actors offer, where possible, psychosocial support for children in children’s natural settings. In the Zimbabwean context, the national orphan care policy of 1999 embraces the thinking floated above. Unicef (2009) identifies three domains of PSS considered most helpful in evaluating children’s lives and experiences.
Thus, skills and knowledge such as life skills, using culturally appropriate coping mechanism, emotional well-being such as feeling safe, trust in others, selfworth and social wellbeing, such as relationship with peers, sense of belonging and access to socially appropriate roles.
Psychosocial support in this context, therefore, could refer to the care and support provided to influence both the child and his/ her social environment with a view to enhancing his/her personal and social wellbeing.
*About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD. He is also doing another PhD and has 12 executive certificates in different fields. Professionally, he is a civil servant and also board member at the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe.